Posts Tagged ‘Matt Bonner’

Morning shootaround — July 16

VIDEO: Karl-Anthony Towns joins The Starters on Wednesday


Bucks take a step toward new arena | Karl hoping to mend fences with Cousins | Cavs, Delly not close to deal | Knicks may use less Triangle

No. 1: Bucks take a step toward new arena — Las Vegas and Seattle may have to keep waiting for NBA teams, because the Bucks look to be staying in Milwaukee. On Wednesday, the Wisconsin state senate approved public funding for a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. The $500 million project still has some hurdles to jump, but this was a big step. Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have the story

After two days of backroom talks, state senators struck a bipartisan deal Wednesday and approved $250 million in public subsidies for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The measure passed 21-10 and goes to the Assembly, which like the Senate is controlled by Republicans. No date has been set for an Assembly vote, but for the first time in months, the proposal has momentum.

The plan would preserve Milwaukee’s stake in professional basketball but at a cost to state, city and county residents, who ultimately would pay $400 million, when accounting for interest over 20 years.

“This deal has taken a lot of work, but the Bucks are big bucks for Wisconsin,” said Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), who voted for the plan. “It’s not been easy. It’s not been pretty. But finally, we’ve all been at the table.”


No. 2: Karl hoping to mend fences with Cousins — The Sacramento Kings have had some interesting twists and turns over the last several months. Earlier this offseason, the drama centered around star DeMarcus Cousins and head coach George Karl, who reportedly wanted Cousins traded. The two were both in Las Vegas for Summer League, but haven’t had much of a pow wow. Karl hopes to make peace with Cousins soon, though, as CBS Sports’ Ken Berger writes

What’s real is the ongoing rift between Karl and Cousins, who barely crossed paths this week as the All-Star made his way to Vegas. During one game, Cousins sat courtside with Divac while Karl remained in the corner of the stands where many NBA coaches, scouts and execs watch the action. Afterward, they exchanged a limp handshake and barely a word.

“I think Cuz and I have got to figure out how to come together and how to commit to each other,” Karl said.

All the while, Divac has taken full responsibility for mending the relationship between Karl and Cousins, and is working to get the two men in the same room for an airing of grievances before training camp.

“I want to talk to Cuz,” Karl said. “But the situation, because of how it got, I think we’ve got to be patient to get to that point. … I trust Vlade. I don’t know when it will be or how it will be, but I think [the meeting with Cousins] will happen.”


No. 3: Cavs, Delly not close to dealMatthew Dellavedova started in The Finals and made huge plays down the stretch of each of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ two wins. The Cavs already have re-signed four of the six free agents from last year’s rotation, but J.R. Smith seems to be on the outside looking in, and there’s a difference between what Dellavedova (a restricted free agent) is looking for and what his team would be willing to pay. In a roundup of news around the league, Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Mannix breaks down the Delly situation …

Not much movement between the Cavaliers and Matthew Dellavedova on a new contract. A restricted free agent, Dellavedova is seeking a multiyear deal starting at $4 million per season, per a source, and the Cavs have balked, largely due to the enormous luxury tax implications that come with that type of contract. The market has largely dried up—Jeremy Lin’s deal with Charlotte closed a potential door—so it will be interesting to see how long this stalemate continues. Paging LeBron James.


No. 4: Knicks may use less Triangle — The Knicks had a multitude of issues last season and their defense was worse than their offense. But it didn’t help that there was a steep learning curve in regard to Phil Jackson‘s and Derek Fisher‘s Triangle offense, which produced the wrong kind of shots. No team shot a greater percentage of its shots from mid-range than the Knicks (36 percent), and that was with Carmelo Anthony (who took 46 percent of his shots from mid-range) missing half the season. The Knicks have upgraded Anthony’s supporting cast, and may be changing up the offense as well, as Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal writes

The Knicks haven’t scrapped the triangle, which is still their base offense, even here in summer-league games. But from last year to now, there’s been a considerable difference concerning how and when the players rely on the system to score.

It could be argued, though, that the best indication of this shift took place in a war room rather than on the hardwood.

New York’s decision to take not one, but two first-rounders—power forward Kristaps Porzingis and point guard Jerian Grant—who specialize in the pick-and-roll was telling. Given that pick-and-roll sets have traditionally been limited in the triangle offense, the draft selections suggested the Knicks were more prepared to begin building around their talent instead of letting their system fully dictate what sorts of players are on the roster.

“The offense is going to be designed around the guys that we have,” Fisher said after the team drafted Porzingis and Grant. “The screen and roll is going to be a part of what we do, but it’s not necessarily going to become something we rely on to get good shots at all times.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mikhail Prokhorov may be buying the remaining shares of the NetsMatt Bonner is back in (silver and) blackDoug McDermott needs a fresh start after a rough rookie seasonJohn Henson could have a bigger role with the Bucks this season … and Dion Waiters thinks the Thunder are championship material.

ICYMI: Pierre Jackson and J.P. Tokoto hooked up for a monster alley-oop in the Sixers’ Summer League loss to Brooklyn on Wednesday:

VIDEO: Jackson to Tokoto

Morning shootaround — July 14

VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 13


Report: KG open to Nets return? | Report: Spurs, Bonner reach deal | Bulls round out roster | Ariza-to-Houston deal grows

No. 1: Report: KG still ‘excited’ to play for Nets — Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett will be entering his 20th NBA season if he chooses to play in 2014-15. The likelihood of him playing next season was always up in the air … but is it even more so now? Garnett’s longtime teammate, Paul Pierce, agreed to a deal with the Washington Wizards over the weekend and led some to think perhaps KG will hang it up for sure this summer.’s Mike Mazzeo writes that Garnett may still be back in Brooklyn next season anyway:

Despite the loss of Paul Pierce via free agency, Kevin Garnett likes the direction of the Brooklyn Nets and is “excited” about joining them for the upcoming season, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.

Garnett, who turned 38 in May, is due $12 million in 2014-15, which would be his 20th NBA season.

He has yet to publicly announce that he’s playing this season, but all indications continue to point that way. On Saturday, a league source told that the Nets still expect Garnett to return.

Pierce elected to sign a two-year contract with the Washington Wizards for $11 million with a second-year player option, sources told

Pierce and Garnett had been teammates since 2007-08. They won a championship together with the Boston Celtics.

VIDEO: Paul Pierce and the Wizards agree on a two-year deal (more…)

2014 Free Agency — Still Going …

From staff reports

Just because LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol and so many other high-profile free agent targets have already made their decisions doesn’t mean this summer’s free agent party is over. The center of the basketball universe is in Las Vegas for Summer League, that’s where the games are being played and the movers and shakers are stationed right now. But the grind of free agency continues all over the place. We’re not done yet …

Update, 1:17 a.m. — Take some quiet time, Pau

After a long day of team decision-making and contract-negotiating, Pau Gasol is ready to ponder his vacation and his future … quietly, of course.

Update, 11:42 p.m. — Rio still feeling the Heat

Another original “Heatles” member is getting closer to being back in the fold, with Mario Chalmers getting a couple more years in Miami.

Update, 11:33 p.m. — Three more years!

Looks like Pau Gasol is ready for the (semi) long haul in bringing a title to Chicago, working on a three-year deal for reasonable price.

Update, 9:48 p.m. — More shooting for SVG

The Detroit Pistons ranked 29th in 3-point percentage last season. And it’s been obvious from the start of free agency that priority No. 1 for new president and coach Stan Van Gundy is improving that mark. He started by adding Jodie Meeks (40.1 percent from three last season) and Cartier Martin (39.1 percent). Now, he’s adding more shooting with the additions of D.J. Augustin (40.1 percent) and Caron Butler (39.4 percent)...

None of these four guys can make a huge impact individually. But collectively, they will space the floor for Detroit’s bigs. And none of them break the bank, with contracts that can easily be worked into trades.

Of course, Greg Monroe remains unsigned as a restricted free agent. Butler probably shouldn’t be a starting small forward anymore, but he could definitely make Josh Smith more of a permanent four than he was last season.

One more note: The Augustin addition is bad news for second-year point guard Peyton Siva, whose contract would become guaranteed on July 20 if he’s not waived by then. Siva must not have made enough of an impression on Van Gundy in Summer League.

Update, 8:40 p.m. — Birdman back

LeBron James is gone, but the rest of the Heat’s rotation is quickly coming back together. Earlier Sunday, Miami reached an agreement with Mario Chalmers on a new contract. And now, it’s the Birdman who has re-upped.

Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones are still free agents, but the Heat are reportedly working things out with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.

Update, 7:02 p.m. — Three-way deal for Ariza

Before the Draft, the Houston Rockets agreed to send Omer Asik to New Orleans. On Saturday, they agreed to sign Trevor Ariza to a four-year contract. And on Sunday, those two deals came together in the form of a three-team sign-and-trade transaction.

Update, 6:30 p.m. — Mirotic is on his way

Pau Gasol isn’t the only international big man that the Chicago Bulls are adding this summer. Nikola Mirotic, a first-round pick in 2011 from Montenegro, announced that he’s on his way as well.

Update, 6:06 p.m. — His name is Rio

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade may have lost Superfriend LeBron James, but they will still have Mario Chalmers to yell at …

Update, 5:58 p.m. — Rockets pass on Parsons

In a bit of a surprise, the Houston Rockets will let Chandler Parsons head to their division rivals, who have made some upgrades (Parsons and Tyson Chandler) this summer …

At one point, we thought the Rockets were going to have a lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Parsons, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard. As it turns out, they’ve dealt away their depth (Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin), swapped Parsons for Trevor Ariza, and helped three fellow Western Conference teams (Lakers, Mavs and Pelicans) improve. They’re also giving the Washington Wizards an asset…

Update, 5:16 p.m. — Champs in tact

Fourteen different Spurs logged at least one minute in the playoffs. We know now that at least 13 of the 14 will be back in silver and black (Aron Baynes remains a restricted free agent) …

Update, 5:07 p.m. — Together Forever

Kirk Hinrich once played for a couple of teams other than the Chicago Bulls. Really. But he won’t be leaving Chicago again, at least not this summer …

Update, 4:32 p.m. — Mavs get at least one SF today

The Dallas Mavericks are still awaiting word from the Houston Rockets on their offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, but that isn’t stopping them from signing a back-up plan. If you need size on the wings, you could do worse than Richard Jefferson, who has shot 41 percent or better from 3-point range in three of his last four seasons

Update, 4:20 p.m. — Hinrich will be a Bull forever

The Charlotte Hornets were in the market for Kirk Hinrich, but with their agreement to sign back-up point guard Brian Roberts, it appears that Kirk Hinrich will be back in Chicago for more years of being Derrick Rose‘s back-up and/or fill-in …

Update, 3:48 p.m. — Kemba’s new back-up

Much to the chagrin of Hang Time’s Sekou Smith, Luke Ridnour‘s services are no longer needed in Charlotte, because Brian Roberts is a Hornet once again. He’ll be the first guy to play for the Charlotte version after playing for the New Orleans version …

Update, 3:24 p.m. — Deng had choices

Joining Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra in sunny South Florida is a pretty good move, but Luol Deng had other options on Sunday…

Update, 2:30 p.m. — Filling LeBron’s shoes

LeBron James took Luol Deng‘s job in Cleveland. And now the Miami Heat have replaced James with Deng. Bosh, Deng and Wade isn’t a bad core to build around …

Update, 2:05 p.m. — Show Luol the money

There are a few teams still looking for a small forward who can play both ends of the floor. Luol Deng knows that and knows he can take advantage of the market …

Update, 1:55 p.m. — Trying to get (most of) the band back together

The Heat will have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh back, but there are still some more roster spots to fill, and some guys they can bring back. The Birdman is one of them …

Update, 1:50 p.m. — Who?

The Bulls are moving on without that guy who scores 27 points a game …

Update, 1:30 p.m. — Wolves draw a line in the sand

The Timberwolves aren’t selling Kevin Love for pennies on the dollar …

Update, 12:35 p.m. — Melo’s City, Melo’s Heart

It’s not the most original concept, but you see the trend here …

Update, 12:21 p.m. — Still waiting on Rockets

Tick, Tock!

Update, 11:56 a.m. — Heat still a 50-win outfit?

Jeff Van Gundy says yes.

Update, 11:50 a.m. — LeBron Jersey of The Day

Welcome home!

Update, 11:26 a.m. — Evan Turner smiling through free agency

Jay and Bey don’t care about free agency!

Update, 11:09 a.m. — Gilbert explains how he and LeBron cleared the air

The greatest rebound of Dan Gilbert‘s professional career has to be coming back from his dreaded letter after “The Decision.” Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press weighs after talking with Gilbert, who took Albom through his reconciliation process with LeBron:

He pondered that as the plane descended into Florida. He and James hadn’t spoken since that night. Four years. They’d seen each other a few times. “I’d sit on the baseline when he came back to play in Cleveland. He’d look at me from the free-throw line. Not good. Not bad. Just look.”

Now he was scheduled to meet James, in secret, to discuss what seemed impossible just days earlier — a return to the Cavs. The whole world was hanging on the news. But as Gilbert glanced out the window, for a moment he wasn’t a billionaire Detroit businessman or an NBA owner. He was every guy seeing his ex-wife after the divorce, every teen guitarist seeing a former friend who broke up the band.

“I had told LeBron’s guys, whether he comes back or not, I really want to clear the air. It shouldn’t be like this.”

He hoped that part would go smoothly. Then someone on board yelled the media had discovered his plane was en route, and a new airport had to be quickly found.

Gilbert realized nothing was going to be easy.

The moment of truth

But then, saying you’re sorry never is. You do it anyway. Long after the basketball smoke clears from this story, that’s the human part we ought to remember.

You shouldn’t be known for the worst thing you ever did. Gilbert entered that private home meeting by himself, no assistants, and sat down at a dining-room table across from James and a few associates.

“First thing I said to him was, ‘LeBron, you know this is true. We had five good years and one bad night. Like a marriage that’s good and then one bad thing happens and you never talk to each other again.

“ ‘I’m just glad we’re here, whether you come or not, LeBron. This has been hanging over my head.’ ”

To his surprise, he soon heard James saying the same thing. The superstar said he regretted the infamous “The Decision” broadcast. He said he didn’t think it out properly. In short, many of the things Gilbert was thinking about his own actions.

“I apologized and we talked and it took maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That’s it. Then I said, ‘Is that enough about the past?’ And we started talking about the future.”

Update, 10:40 a.m. — Wizards replace perfect fit with a Hall of Famer

Even swap?

Update, 10:38 a.m. — Mavericks-Rockets rivalry extends off the court

Never let business get personal.

Update, 10:20 a.m. — Rockets on the clock for Parsons

This is going to be a long day in both Houston and Dallas as the Rockets consider their options on Chandler Parsons. The countdown clock is ticking for Daryl Morey and Co. Do they match the Mavericks’ offer sheet to Parsons now that Trevor Ariza is in the fold?

They have until 11:59 p.m. to decide.

Update, 9:50 a.m. — The ultimate power

The power of LeBron!

Update, 9:40 a.m. — Deng, Heat far apart

The Heat can close the gap and stay relevant in the Eastern Conference chase with Deng in the fold.

Game 3: Heat have chance to take control

VIDEO: The GameTime crew previews Game 3 of The Finals

MIAMI — Two games into the NBA Finals, the Spurs and Heat have split the difference and enter a two-game stand in Miami with the Heat now controlling home-court advantage. And the Heat now have the opportunity to change the story from cramps to champs.

The Basics:

Game 3 tips off Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Break out the white shirts and dos minutos cheers — the series has moved to Miami, where the Heat are an impressive 8-0 this postseason in the AmericanAirlines Arena.

Also, they have this LeBron James guy, who has been stopped thus far only by a buildup of lactic acid.

Through two games against the Heat, the Spurs have played well for the most part, though occasional lapses at important times have been costly. Worried about Tony Parker‘s ankle? Don’t be. Parker is averaging 20 points per game for the series and has driven the Spurs’ offense.

The Narrative:

After being sidelined for the last 4 minutes of Game 1 with leg cramps,  James came out for Game 2 like he had something to prove. While James had been the target of many doubters after his Game 1 injury, he squashed that storyline with a 35-point, 10-rebound tour de force in Miami’s 98-96 Game 2 win.

The Heat are now strapped firmly into the driver’s seat in this series, with the opportunity to win two homes games and leap ahead to a 3-1 series lead.

For the Spurs, they have to hope to repeat their start from the 2013 Finals. In that series, after winning Game 1 and losing Game 2, the Spurs blew out Miami in Game 3 113-87.

While the Spurs have seen big back-to-back games games from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the 38-year-old Tim Duncan has been arguably their best all-around performer. Duncan followed his 25 points and 6 boards in Game 1 with a terrific 18-point, 15-rebound Game 2.

The Subplots:

Chris Bosh‘s consistency through the first two games has been crucial for the Heat. Bosh is not only averaging 18 points per game, but he’s shot a combined 4-for-6 on 3-pointers. Bosh’s ability to take (and make) those outside shots stretches the Spurs’ defense and opens driving lanes for James and Dwyane Wade.

What has made the Spurs so dangerous all season has been their depth and versatility. But in Game 2, no Spurs players other than their big three (Duncan, Parker, Ginobili) managed to score in double figures.

X’s and O’s:

James spent the first half of Game 2 attacking the rim over and over and finding little resistance. But in the second half, James made a living with his jump shot, knocking down eight shots outside the paint and forcing the Spurs to run at him, which gave other Heat players plenty of opportunities to create and finish (it was a Bosh-to-Wade pass that sealed the game).

The Spurs racked up 23 turnovers in Game 1 and still managed to hang on for the win. They cut that down to just 11 turnovers in Game 2, but had no answer for James. Also worth noting, while Parker led the Spurs with seven assists in Game 2, big men Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter tied for runner-up status, as each contributed five assists.

Who’s Hot?

Rashard Lewis has used the playoffs to play his way into Miami’s starting lineup. And while coach Erik Spoelstra likes mixing and matching supporting players, Lewis has been consistent, averaging 12 points per game in nearly 30 minutes a night.

After last year’s disastrous Finals performances when he tried to play through injury, through two games Ginobili is back to being the dynamic scoring playmaker that leads the Spurs’ bench.

Whatever happened to …

Matt Bonner went from starting Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Thunder to not playing Game 1 against Miami, and then playing just 1 minute in Game 2. Perhaps he’s a liability defensively, but Bonner’s shooting generally has value no matter the opponent.

Also worth noting is that Wade has averaged 16.5 points per game in The Finals, but also posted a combined -26 plus/minus rating.

Bottom line:

Neither team seems to fear the other team. Now, holding home court advantage, the Heat have the chance to show us why they deserve a third straight title.

Few freebies from San Antonio defense

VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks about the Spurs’ defensive philosophy

SAN ANTONIO – Maybe the biggest preconception fans had about the Miami Heat in The Finals, any Finals, is that the so-called “superstar” calls naturally would favor the team boasting LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Aside from the matter of whether such calls exist – you’d get quite an argument from the league HQ – there’s the nature of those players’ attack styles and the pressure that puts on defenses to get beat or to foul. All three routinely rank in the Top 10 in free-throw attempts and have done so for years – James (No. 28), Wade (No. 37) and Bosh (No. 72) also rank in the Top 100 in NBA history in the category of getting to the foul line.

Ah, but they haven’t played their entire careers against the San Antonio Spurs.

Defending without fouling is a priority of the Spurs. It has been for years. And if that approach can be considered the immovable object of the 2013 and 2014 Finals, it is winning its clashes with the Heat’s unstoppable foul-line force.

Consider some of the numbers:

  • Miami shot just 11 free throws in the opener Thursday, the fewest attempts by a team in Game 1 in 50 years.
  • The Heat’s 118 free throws a year ago set the record for the fewest ever in a seven-game Finals.
  • San Antonio set a corresponding record by committing the fewest fouls (118) in a seven-game Finals. They were called for only 14 Thursday.
  • The Heat generated about a fifth of their offense from the foul line in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (20.2 percent combined), and that rate held in their championship series against Dallas and Oklahoma City (20.4 percent). But after getting nearly as many of their points on free throws the past two seasons (17.0 percent), their rate in eight Finals games against San Antonio has dropped off noticeably (14.5 percent).
  • Only once in the past 10 seasons have the Spurs ranked lower than five in fewest fouls committed or sixth in most free throws allowed. They have ranked in the top three in those categories seven and six times, respectively.

In other words, it’s how they play.

“Not fouling is what we try to do every season,” coach Gregg Popovich said before Game 1. “We’re usually first or second, I believe, in that category of fewest fouls. It’s just our philosophy. Might be wrong, might be right, other people have a different philosophy, but for us it works. … Just percentage‑wise and strategy‑wise for what we do and the way we play defense, it works for us.”

Hall of Fame-bound big man Tim Duncan summed up the approach thusly: “Keep ’em off the line, make ’em make the tough shots and play the percentages has been our philosophy.”

Duncan — who, if you ask him, never has committed a foul in his 17 NBA seasons anyway — likened James, Wade and Bosh to the potent scorers San Antonio faced in the previous round from Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Those types of players are dangerous enough when the defense isn’t helping them out. “Those are easy points that can get people going,” Duncan said. “And you put them on the free‑throw line and they get to stand there and score some points, and that in turn can up their confidence, give them a rhythm, whatever it may be.”

Not doing something you want to avoid – not fouling – is easier said than done at this level. When a defense breaks down, when your man flashes by you, it can be satisfying at some primal level to put wood on him, to at least feel like you’re doing something.

“It’s a fine line,” Spurs forward Matt Bonner said, “because you don’t want to give people layups but at the same time, you don’t want to bail ’em out. If you can stay between them and the basket, you want to try to show your hands and make them make a shot.

“It’s not a fluke. Not fouling is a point of emphasis here, it’s a teaching point, so regardless of who we’re playing – whether it’s a superstar or not – that’s how we try to play.”

There is one more benefit to the Spurs when they don’t foul: It avoids stopping the clock and grinding the game to a halt. Remember, San Antonio these days has a high-octane attack that prefers to keep pace in the game. It no longer wants to slow everything down in the half court.

Here’s how one Western Conference assistant coach put it: “A miss or a make can be better than a free throw. They don’t want to foul because if you’re at the line shooting free throws, they’ve got to take the ball out of the basket. Even on a make [made field goal], they get the ball in quickly and they want to play with pace. So as much as not fouling is important to them defensively, it’s important to them in running our offense.”

The challenge to Miami, then, is to either force the issue to earn its free throws or – if it can’t count on a symphony of whistles – to generate offense in other ways.

“We understand what they’re trying to do,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re an attack, aggressive team but three‑point spacing is important to us. Teams will take away what you’re good at, you will still try to get to what you’re good at … but ultimately you have to figure it out.”

Said Wade: “Obviously got to make more shots. One thing they do is try to flush you out, make you take tough shots, contest it. Or if you drive the basket, try to get you to miss without fouling.

“You gotta play with the flow of the game, gotta make more shots, shoot a higher percentage than we did in the first game versus this team. That’s what we did last year – we made shots. And if you don’t make shots, they’ll kill you.”

Leonard, Spurs will stick to traditional methods of defense against LeBron

VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard talks about the matchup with the Heat

SAN ANTONIO — And now … the San Antonio Spurs player most likely to blow in LeBron James‘ ear…?


“There isn’t one,” Spurs forward Matt Bonner said, straight-faced.


The stoic, disciplined and ultra-professional Spurs have no need for the brand of antics that Pacers guard Lance Stephenson brought to the floor in his personal battle against the two-time Finals MVP during the Eastern Conference finals.

The Spurs, rest assured, will not employ it as a tactic against James.

“Uh, not on purpose,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, who could see time against James as well as Dwyane Wade, said. “That stuff doesn’t work against him and that only makes him better, I think, from the aspect of many different areas. We kind of don’t want to wake a sleeping a giant.”

Not that James has really been sleeping, but in the Spurs and Heat splitting the regular-season series (one game apiece, a blowout per side), the Spurs did as good a job as any team in letting alpha dogs lie. He averaged 18.5 ppg, less than only the Bulls allowed (18.3). Part of that is due to the blowout nature of the two games and James logging an average of only 32.9 minutes in the two games. Still, check out the shooting percentage, and the Spurs limited James to 42.4 percent (14-for-33) from the floor and 16.7 percent (1-for-6) from 3-point range. James’ percentages during the regular season were 56.7 and 37.9.

It makes sense with the Bulls employing Jimmy Butler and their intensely physical defense on James, and the Spurs using 6-foot-7, 230-pound Kawhi Leonard backed by a smart, cohesive unit that was quite successful in last year’s Finals of keeping James from rampaging through the lane.

Leonard, fresh off tracking regular-season MVP Kevin Durant in the West finals, will get the bulk of the LeBron load. On Tuesday, the third-year small forward was named to his first NBA All-Defensive team, making the second team.

“It’s just great that people are starting to notice that I’m giving my effort out there on the floor at both ends and just finally starting to get noticed,” Leonard said. “That’s what I pretty much feel about it.”

James obviously faced Leonard a year ago in the Finals, so he probably knows he’s not going to hear much in the way of trash talk, or much of any talk at all from the famously quiet Leonard. Leonard said he doesn’t get involved in conversations of any kind with the man he’s tasked to guard.

“No,” Leonard said, “no I don’t. I just talk to my teammates, tell them I got help-side or something like that, but not really a conversation to try to get into somebody’s head.”

Morning Shootaround — June 1

VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 31


Heat welcomes another rematch | And still, it’s Tim Duncan | Thunder needs tweaks, not overhaul | Lots of Love in Beantown

No. 1: Heat welcomes another rematch — It was going to happen one way or the other. The Miami Heat, once they survived one familiar nemesis (Indiana Pacers) in the Eastern Conference finals, were going to face a familiar Finals foe as well, either their 2012 opponents (Oklahoma City Thunder) or the other guys from 2013 (San Antonio Spurs). Turns out, it is San Antonio, the team that Miami beat in seven games last June only after surviving the sixth one (thanks, Ray Allen!). Which probably is best for intensity, TV ratings, the Spurs’ shot at retribution and even Miami’s legacy should it manage to beat the great Gregg Popovich and his mighty trinity of stars for consecutive championships. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel offered the Heat side after the Western Conference clincher:

“Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Dwyane Wade said of having another opponent bent on settling a previous score. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Neither, apparently, would the Spurs.

“We’re back here. We’re excited about it,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said after the Spurs finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-107 in overtime in Saturday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. “We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.

“We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths, still.”

Said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, “We worked eight months really hard. We had a really successful season. And all we did was to get back to this point.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich on Saturday night praised his team for showing the “fortitude” this season to not have a “pity party” after losing to the Heat in last season’s Finals.

“I think our guys, they actually grew in the loss last year,” he said.

The last time the Heat faced a Finals rematch, it wasn’t the desired outcome, with the Dallas Mavericks exacting revenge in the 2011 NBA Finals after falling to Wade and the Heat in the 2006 Finals.

“Hopefully, it’s not the same outcome as it was the first time around,” Wade said, with those 2011 NBA Finals remaining the only playoff series the Heat have lost since Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined together in the 2010 offseason. “It’s going to be a big challenge.”

Unlike that five-years-later Mavericks rematch, these upcoming Finals will pit opponents with largely the same rosters as last season’s Finals meeting.

“They’re going to feel more prepared for this moment,” Wade said, with the Heat playing as the road team in the best-of-seven series that opens Thursday, after holding homecourt advantage last year against the Spurs. “It’s going to have its own challenges.”

Having survived the Spurs in a compelling series last season salvaged by Ray Allen’s Game 6 3-pointer, the Heat exited AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night poised for the 12th Finals rematch since the league’s first title series in 1947. Of the 11 Finals rematches to date, there have been seven repeat winners, including, most recently, Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz of Karl Malone and John Stockton in 1997 and 1998.

Wade said getting back to the championship series never gets old, no matter the road traveled, no matter the familiarity with the opposition.

“We’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in because it’s an amazing moment,” he said. “It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes.

“Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this.  So we just want to continue to add to what we’re accomplishing.”



Westbrook: Ibaka won’t be fooled again

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Spurs’ Game 5 strategy to use Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw as “stretch” power forwards to bait Thunder rim protector Serge Ibaka out of the paint worked just like Gregg Popovich drew it up.

Ibaka admitted the ploy threw him off, and he had his first dud since joining the Western Conference finals in Game 3. Yet any notion that the San Antonio’s two role players suddenly present an unsolvable riddle for the Thunder in Saturday’s do-or-die Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) literally made point guard Russell Westbrook shake his head.

“They’re not the first stretch-4s that we’ve played,” Westbrook following the team’s morning shootaround. “We played Dirk [Nowitzki], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Kevin Love, all these different bigs that can shoot the ball at a high percentage, so we know what to do.”

Then Westbrook sort of chuckled thinking of Diaw and Bonner as being the type of gunners he had just listed.

“Boris Diaw, Bonner, man, they can shoot the ball, but that’s nothing we’ve never seen before. We know how to guard somebody that can shoot the ball. Serge knows what he’s supposed to do, we know what we’re supposed to do as a team, so we’re not worried about that.”

And there this was this final guarantee from Westbrook regarding Ibaka’s ability to make himself a presence in the paint in Game 6 assuming the Spurs continue to try to drag him away.

“He won’t be dragged away,” Westbrook said. “He’ll be locked in tonight.”

The home team has been the one locked in through the first five games of a series that coaches and players on both sides have punted on reasons why we’ve yet to see a fourth quarter that matters. Earlier in the playoffs, road teams were stealing games. The Thunder wrapped up their second-round series on the Los Angeles’ Clippers home court.

The Spurs, the regular season’s best road team, are only 2-5 on the road during the postseason going back to Game 3 of the second round at Portland. They’ve also lost nine straight, including blowout losses in Games 3 and 4 of this series, at the Thunder’s raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City has won four consecutive home playoff games going back to their Game 1 loss in the second round.


The home team has won every game in this series and has dominated all of the key statistics. A look at the Thunder’s production at home versus the road in the Western Conference finals:

Home      Road

FG%                  47.1            42.8

3FG%                34.2           28.2

OffRtg              111.5            94.6

DefRtg              95.6            125.0

FB PTS              16.5             9.3

PITP                   45.0           36.7

Opp PITP         38.0           53.3

Reb                     47.0           36.7

Blocks                9.0            3.0

Steals                 9.5             5.3

Popovich and Thunder coach Scott Brooks both say their teams’ energy and effort have dictated the wild fluctuations of this series more than game-to-game, or even in-game, adjustments.

The home team has simply played with more force and defensive determination for 48 minutes. Consider in their two home wins the Thunder averaged 9.0 blocks (3.0 on the road) and 9.5 steals (5.3 on the road). Those stats go hand-in-hand with their Jekyll-and-Hyde fast-break points that are so crucial to OKC’s offensive success: 33 in two home games compared to 28 in two road games.

Those turnovers and fast-break points work the Thunder crowd into a lather, turning an already hostile environment into one in which visiting teams feel as though the walls are caving in around them.

“Just because we’re home we can’t relax and think we’re automatically going to win because we’re at home,” Kevin Durant said. “This team [the Spurs] is looking to get to the NBA Finals, so we know how desperate they’re going to be to win the game, how hard they’re going to come out and play. We’ve got to match it. We know the circumstances.”

Spurs need to follow smart path

VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY — Going into Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, all coach Gregg Popovich wanted to see from his team was fire and aggressiveness.

Now with a chance to close out the Thunder on Saturday night (8:30 ET, TNT), what the Spurs probably need most is smarts.

“If we just want to play crazy and take quick shots, they’re going to beat us,” said Manu Ginobili. “They are more athletic, they are more talented. So we’ve really got to be sharp.”

There’s a good chance that Popovich will again open with Matt Bonner replacing Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup to spread the floor and open up space in the middle of the OKC defense with Serge Ibaka forced to chase on the perimeter.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks could make the next chess move by shifting defensive assignments, putting Ibaka on Tim Duncan to keep him closer to the basket. But that would also mean that Kevin Durant would have to take time guarding the sizable-but-quick Boris Diaw, who came off the bench to start the second half of Game 5 in place of Bonner.

Ginobili says Diaw has just the kind of veteran experience and wisdom that can make a difference.

“He’s smart, he knows how to pass, and he is a great combination of being a good shooter without shooting too much, and a driver, and can post up more as a player,” Ginobili said. “He’s very versatile, and you can change things up with him a lot, and looking at each other, we can make decisions on the fly.”

Spurs hope to avoid a Game 7

VIDEO: Inside Trax: Gregg Popovich

OKLAHOMA CITY — It took digging Matt Bonner out of mothballs and maybe a not-so-subtle couple of days of pounding a message of ferocity into their heads to wake them up, but the Spurs have regained their spirit.

Coach Gregg Popovich has done his part. Now it’s up to the Spurs to remember who they are and close the deal on the Western Conference finals in Game 6.

“Yeah, absolutely we believe we can,” said Tim Duncan on the heels of another turn-back-the-clock night of 22 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5. “It’s a tough place to play and we’ve lost however many in a row there and they’re going to be fighting for their lives.

“All those factors altogether are not going to make it an easy game for us. But we feel we play the right way. We take care of the ball. We do the things that we’ve been talking about all series long. There’s no reason why we can’t win it.”

The Spurs have lost nine consecutive games at Chesapeake Arena, including five in a row in the playoffs. The last time Duncan and his teammates won in OKC was back on March 12, 2012 when DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal and James Anderson were still wearing silver and black.

But the core of the roster remains the same along with the way the Spurs want to play the game. They have to beat the Thunder with guile and not athleticism, with patience and poise rather than trying to go outside their character.

“This is the way we’ve been playing all season long and how we need to play to win,” Duncan said, referring to the Spurs’ 117-89 win on Thursday night. “We shared the ball real well. We moved the ball real well. We moved our bodies. We took something away from them and we made them react.”

While much had been made of the Thunder trying to re-live the 2012 Western Conference finals when they came back from an 0-2 hole to sweep four straight games, actually this series full of blowouts is almost an entirely different page out of Spurs history. After winning the first two games of the 2005 NBA Finals at home, the Spurs went to Detroit and were blown out by 20 in back-to-back games. Robert Horry saved them with a dramatic shot in Game 5, but they had to return home to pull out their second championship with Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as teammates by going a full seven games.

“I never want to go to seven games with anybody,” Ginobili said. “I wish we could win 4-0 every time. But we are playing against one of the best teams in the league with the MVP, a very talented, athletic group of players.

“Of course, we’re going to go there and try to play our best game and try to finish the series. But if it gets back [to San Antonio] and we have to play a Game 7, we’ll do it. And we know to beat a team like them, we’re going to have to work very hard. If there’s a seven, there’s a seven.”